Shabazz Muhammad practices

LOS ANGELES -- UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad, out since Oct. 25 with a shoulder strain, is participating in practice and is "real close" to a full return coach Ben Howland said Tuesday.

However, a lingering NCAA investigation could still keep him out even though his shoulder might be healed enough to play the season opener on Friday.

"Physically, there is a possibility for sure," Howland said.

Howland said Muhammad had reached the "day-to-day" phase in his recovery from injury, kind of where he is with the NCAA investigation into whether or not he received improper benefits. There is no timetable on a decision from the NCAA, so the Bruins are playing the waiting game and do not know if or when their star recruit will be able to join the team.

"We know the NCAA is going to handle that and hopefully he'll be able to play," center Joshua Smith said. "But right now, we're game planning and focusing as if he can't play."

The Bruins, No. 13 in the preseason Associated Press poll, play Indiana State on Friday night in a season-opening game that will mark the grand re-opening of a remodeled Pauley Pavilion. UCLA got good news last week regarding a separate probe into Kyle Anderson, another top recruit who was cleared to play after a lengthy investigation.

But Muhammad, a 6-foot-6 guard, is the prize player in a recruiting class ranked No. 1 in the country and a major reason why some have picked UCLA to make a run at the Final Four. A dynamic scorer when healthy, he was the national high school player of the year last year and already is projected as a first-round NBA draft pick.

"All of us want him to play," Smith said. "Everybody knows what he brings."

Junior guard Tyler Lamb also is progressing after undergoing surgery Oct. 9 to repair cartilage in his knee. Howland said Lamb practiced for "about 40 minutes" Tuesday and barring any setbacks would practice an hour on Wednesday. He's hopeful that Lamb can play Friday in the season opener.

"Hopefully, he'll be available even though he's still got a lot to do to get back to full game shape," Howland said.